Forty movies. Eleven days. One magic ticket.
Toronto Film School alum Arianne Binette recently landed herself a highly-coveted press pass to cover the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival – granting her access to some of the hottest tickets in Tinseltown North and making her the envy of cinephiles everywhere for the next week and a half.
“I’m planning to review 40 TIFF films this year, so that’s about four movies a day,” said Binette, 25, who is covering the Sept. 5-15 festival on behalf of The UnderSCENE – the Toronto-based collective of self-described “film geeks” she helped co-found after graduating from TFS’s Writing for Film & TV Diploma program.
“It’s going to be a lot of long days, but TIFF is always so much fun. It’s what I love to do, so I’m excited.”
A Montreal native, Binette was first introduced to TIFF three years ago when she moved to Toronto in the middle of the 2016 festival and – despite only being able to get tickets to one screening of Black Mirror – found herself swept up by its sheer size.
“I remember walking down King Street and being overwhelmed. We have film festivals in Montreal, but they’re not nearly as big,” she said of TIFF, which, since its inception in 1976, has grown to become one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world.
“I loved the atmosphere inside the theatre and I could not believe that even a 2 p.m. showing had sold out – I was, like… ‘this is great.’”
Better prepared her second time around, Binette not only quadrupled the number of TIFF screenings she attended the following year, but also made a lasting connection with her now friend, writing partner and UnderSCENE co-founder, Andres Guzman, during the 2017 festival.
“We were both standing in line (for TIFF) when we met,” she said of Guzman, whom she recognized as a coworker at Cineplex, but had never spoken to before.
“We found each other in that line, started talking, and realized how much we had in common – that’s how it all started.”
From the spark of that initial conversation, the concept behind The UnderSCENE took flame: to be a conduit through which movies by and about minorities in the LGBT and non-white communities can get the recognition and promotion they’re oftentimes denied in mainstream media.
“I remember telling him about how I want to write about the movies I watch, which are LGBT movies, and Andres, as a man of colour, telling me ‘I feel like we’re always underseen’ – and it clicked right away,” Binette said of The UnderSCENE’s beginnings.
“From there, we created something where, yes, we review mainstream movies, but we also look at movies and TV shows that don’t get as much attention – like little gems that people don’t know about yet.”
Fast-forward two years and Binette and Guzman are now nearing the one-year anniversary of the October 2018 launch of The UnderSCENE – an inaugural year they now get to cap off with Binette’s coverage of what many have billed the world’s “most influential” film festival.
“At first, I couldn’t believe it when I found out (we got TIFF accreditation) because we’re still pretty small and we’re Toronto-based,” Binette said, noting that she covered TIFF 2018 as a freelance writer for a more established movie review website.
“So, for us, it was a validation that we’re doing the right things, we’re on the right track now, and if we keep going, we’ll just get bigger and better.”
As for the next 11 days, Binette said she anticipates being kept very busy in her attempts to review as many TIFF films as she possibly can for The UnderSCENE.
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood – directed by Marielle Heller – USA, World Premiere
I didn’t grow up watching Mr. Rogers, so my first contact with him was really the documentary that was released last year. And I cried like a baby watching that documentary, so when this was announced I was even more excited. Not only was it directed by Marielle Heller, who helmed the fantastic Can You Ever Forgive Me from last year, but it also starred Tom Hanks (Toy Story, Forrest Gump) in a picture-perfect casting. I have to say that the one trailer that was released made me excited for this film. The film seems to centre more on Matthew Rhys’ character (The Americans), but I know that Tom Hanks will kill it in this role. While not much is known about the film, I am certain it will be an emotional roller coaster and propel Hanks into Oscar conversation once again.
– A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sept. 8 at 3:15 p.m. and Sept. 14 at 2:30 p.m.
Honey Boy – directed by Alma Har’el – USA, International Premiere
A film about Shia LeBeouf’s life that he wrote and where he plays his father is everything that I didn’t know I wanted, but do. It seems to be too out there but I just can’t wait to see this film. Not only is it with LeBeouf as his father, but also starts Lucas Hedges as himself. While the film is not being billed as an autobiographical film, it isn’t hard to see the resemblance with LeBeouf’s own life and what we have seen and known of his own life, or more likely what he has let us seen of his life. Honey Boy blends real life with fiction in what seems to be a story about love, abuse and the struggle of trauma. Not only that but just from the first trailer, the style of the film seems to be one that will blend style and visual in an interesting way to create a film that will leave an imprint on me.
– Honey Boy will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 10 at 9:30 p.m., Sept. 12 at 11 a.m. and Sept. 13 at 10 a.m.
How to Build a Girl – directed by Coky Giedroyc – United Kingdom, World Premiere
Look, Beanie Feldstein can do no wrong. She made me laugh with the best line of the whole film in Lady Bird, killed me in Booksmart and I just know that I will be hanging at every word she will say in this film. I will be honest and say that I think How to Build a Girl is my most anticipated film of the Festival and it wasn’t even on my radar at the beginning. But then I looked at the movie and I couldn’t believe it. Set in England in the ’90s, How to Build a Girl tells the coming of age story about a girl who decides to reinvent herself as a hip London music-critic. Also starring Chris O’Dowd, Alfie Allen, and Emma Thompson, How to Build a Girl coming of age story seems to be one of the funniest one to come out of Festival and I can’t wait to laugh hard non-stop while watching it.
– How to Build a Girl will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 7 at 12 p.m., Sept. 8 at 7:15 p.m. and Sept. 13 at 6 p.m.
Jojo Rabbit – directed by Taika Waititi – USA, World Premiere
Normally a film with Hilter wouldn’t be on your radar but when it’s a satire by Taika Waititi with him playing Hitler, then yes it’s on your radar. Telling the story of a young German boy who finds a young Jewish girl in his house and decides to consult his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler. Just with that premise, it should be enough for you to go and run to see it. Rumours are already around the Disney is uneasy about releasing the film since it was first made under Fox and was bought with the sale, but made my Waititi, himself a Jewish man, Jojo Rabbit seems to bring humour and satire to a difficult subject that will bring all the emotion.
– Jojo Rabbit will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 8 at 9:30 p.m., Sept. 9 at 10 a.m., Sept. 13 at 9:30 p.m. and Sept. 15 at 12 p.m.
Just Mercy – directed by Destin Daniel Cretton – USA, World Premiere
Destin Daniel Cretton, Brie Larson, Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan is a combination that I can’t wait to see on the big screen. Cretton directed one of my favourite films of all time, Short Term 12 and while his follow up The Glass Castle wasn’t my favourite, his promise as a filmmaker makes me excited for anything he directs. Not only that, but the story seems to be one that will leave you in shambles telling the true story of a lawyer who returned to Alabama in order to defend wrongly convicted men. In the world of today where we hear so many horror stories of the justice system, films like this are necessary and with the powerhouse of acting that his behind this film, it promises to bring emotions to the forefront. Cretton has proven that taking hard subjects can be a thing of beauty and to see him collaborate again with Larson is a pleasure that I can’t wait to witness once again.
– Just Mercy will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 6 at 6 and 8 p.m., Sept. 7 at 10 a.m. and Sept. 14 at 11 a.m.
Knives Out – directed by Rian Johnson – USA, World Premiere
Rian Johnson paired with an all-star cast brings us a whodunit murder mystery that seems, from the trailers to blend comedy with mystery. After the great film that was The Last Jedi, Johnson brings to the screen a detailed eye and a witty script that promises a laugh. While tropes are often what makes whodunit films to be redundant, I trust that Johnson will bring a little more to Knives Out and play against our expectations. With an all-star cast composed of Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and LaKeith Stanfield, Knives Out seems to be fun from beginning to end.
– Knives Out will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 8 at 11 a.m.
The Lighthouse – directed by Robert Eggers – USA, North American Premiere
From the moment this film premiered at Cannes, I was hoping it would come to TIFF. Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, this black and white thriller about two lighthouse keeper who slowly falls into madness captivated Cannes and it’s audiences and seems to be one psychological trip that will leave a mark. From the man who gave us The Witch, The Lighthouse looks to bring paranoia in a beautiful setting and makes us question everything we know. Both Dafoe and Pattinson seem to bring career-defining performances with both continuing to prove that they are two of the most interesting working actor right now and who always give us projects that change our perspective on them.
– The Lighthouse will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. and Sept. 8 at 7:45 p.m.
Lucy in the Sky – directed by Noah Hawley – USA, World Premiere
Noah Hawley has created some of the most interesting television series of Peak TV with Legion and Fargo and with Lucy in the Sky marks Hawley feature debut. Inspired by a true story about an astronaut who comes back from Space and starts an affair with a fellow astronaut only to have her life go down a spiral when said astronaut leaves her for another one. Drama, crime, mental health and relationships always create a good melting pot of stories and Lucy in the Sky seems no different. With a cast lead by Natalie Portman, Lucy in the Sky seems to continue Hawley’s streak of exploring mental health with a style that is unique to him.
– Lucy in the Sky will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 11 at 9 p.m., Sept. 12 at 2:30 p.m., Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. and Sept. 15 at 5:45 p.m.
Parasite – directed by Bong Joon-ho – South Korea, Canadian Premiere
Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Parasite seems to be one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Master of cinema Bong Joon-ho, who is behind the amazing Snowpiercer and Okja goes back to his roots and directs a thrilling story about class and politics with Parasite. Bong describes the film as “a comedy without clowns and a tragedy without villains” and just from the trailer, it’s easy to see why. Exploring social classes is nothing new, but doing it behind a thrilling story that seems to captivate your attention from opening moment to the fade-out, Parasite seems to be one of the films that you just can’t miss.
– Parasite will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 6 at 8:30 p.m. and Sept. 7 at 1:30 p.m.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – directed by Céline Sciamma – France, Canadian Premiere
The moment this film premiered at Cannes, I was ready for it. It was reviewed great and everything about it was enticing to me. Set in the 18th century, the film follows Marianne, an artist who is commissioned by an Italian noblewoman (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her reclusive daughter Héloïse, who is soon to be married. The film seems to be a slow burn story about love and emotions. Just from the trailer, the cinematography seems to reveal in the setting and hold the gaze just a little longer than usual which fits the film since it’s about a woman doing someone’s portrait. Portrait of a Lady on Fire seems to be a beautiful love story about two women who really see each other for the first time when all the veils are finally down.
– Portrait of a Lady on Fire will have screenings at the Festival on Sept. 5 at 9:15 p.m. and Sept. 6 at 3 p.m.
Honourable Mentions: The Aeronauts, American Son, Bad Education, Chicuarotes, Corpus Christi, Frankie, The Goldfinch, Hala, Hustlers, I Am Woman, Joker, The Laundromat, Motherless Brooklyn, Radioactive, Seberg, SYNCHRONIC, True History of the Kelly Gang, Uncut Gems and Waves.